How should we form values to judge games by?

How is it possible to establish which values we should hold games up to in order to figure out how good the game is? You can point to the best games and say they have X value, but in order to establish that those games are great, you have to presume a value by which to judge it.

It’s based on people. People tend to like certain things, we notice what those things are, we attempt to establish what values within those things are desirable, we produce new work based on those values, we see if our work is effective, and refine our model.

It’s a big cycle that informs itself. We need to build models, and refine them based on observation and experimentation. Nothing of what exists today came to exist in a vacuum. We’ve gone through millennia of cultural evolution. I think that the base desires that motivate us have stayed relatively consistent on a human level (though this is debatable, and also culturally influenced) and we’ve steadily found things that we respond more strongly to, then we had children, who also responded strongly to those things, either because culture informed them they should, or because it’s a human desire, or both, and the previous generation died. So the next generation is stuck with preexisting works that express preexisting values, and does not begin totally from scratch. We’re born in the middle of a chicken and the egg problem. Objects from the prior generation are already considered valuable by the time we get here, and we need to individually interpret whether that value is true or false. I wasn’t around for the NES, I came to the conclusion NES games were good based on playing them myself.

I’ve selected values based on what I think the most important aspects of games are across observation of a bunch of games, and tried to separate those values from the influence of culture. These might just be what I personally value more than anything else, people have certainly accused me of that in the past, and will again in the future. However I try to separate it from my own value system by acknowledging that not all games I’d consider good are necessarily games that I like, and not all games that I like are necessarily good. I think that the values I’ve chosen tie back to human nature, or exist for practical design reasons. I recognize that human nature varies a bit on an individual level, but I think we’re similar enough as a group to attempt to make general value evaluations.

I think what people get hung up on with your way of thinking is that you think of the word ‘good’ as objective while things you ‘like’ are subjective, whereas to most people they’re both subjective and pretty much the same thing. Why bother ‘liking’ things if you can’t call them ‘good’?

Because the qualities I admire in them don’t outweigh the negative aspects of those things, but are unique to those things. Or I liked them as a kid and still unironically like them even though they’re fucked up or kinda lame. Like Dungeon Keeper 2, even though everyone else seems to prefer Dungeon Keeper 1 and DK2 itself is kinda broken and one dimensional in a lot of ways.

I think most people connect things that are good to some type of objective basis. I think that when you assign something a property, you’re saying that belongs to the object, not to your perception of the object. Rampant subjectivism comes from recognizing that we assign properties to objects based on our perceptions of objects, so it is assumed that especially for non-functional or impractical objects that their properties are indistinguishable from our unique perception of them, which is unmappable to other people’s perception of them. I’ve explained my reasons for disagreeing with this in the past and don’t really want to repeat myself.

That loltaku post you linked on twitter is dumb. no good first year philosophy course will tell you “nothing is objective.” he also equates objectively quality with how the “average person” sees art.

I’m pretty sure the implication is that first year philosophy isn’t good, it’s introducing people to basic philosophical concepts, not all of which are in agreement with each other. That and haven’t we gone over before that nobody can be perfectly objective off the bat, but we can use various methods to get closer and closer to objectivity and refine our models until we approach analysis more descriptive of the world as it is and detached from our individual lens?

“Roger Ebert, on more than one occasional, gave movies he personally disliked a thumbs up, and movies he liked a thumbs down, because despite his personal enjoyment he could recognize the quality of the movie and how the average person would feel after seeing each.”
loltaku is coming at this from a pretty standard perspective, where the problem isn’t the methodology of the reviewers, the problem is that they give the wrong scores relative to common consensus, which is why people like older game reviews and dislike modern ones. They perceive that old game reviews were more in line with public opinion, or at minimum that reviewers were more direct and honest.

And the concept of a general audience reaction thing is a type of objectivity, I mean, I’m pursuing a slightly different standard in my own writing, more about the way a game appeals to the base instinct of fun, but both of these are about generalities in relation to people.

That and the important parts of the post to me were,
“yes, reviews can never be purely objective, but if we want to get into intolerable first year philosophy, nothing can really be objective. That doesn’t mean you can’t attempt to judge things with an objective eye.” with that last sentence being the operative part of the paragraph.
“The ability to detach yourself from your personal preferences and view things objectively, as well as the ability to articulate why you think something is good/bad are what is SUPPOSED to separate a professional critic from an amateur one”
“Roger Ebert, on more than one occasional, gave movies he personally disliked a thumbs up, and movies he liked a thumbs down, because despite his personal enjoyment he could recognize the quality of the movie”

2 thoughts on “How should we form values to judge games by?

  1. RDI December 17, 2016 / 6:39 pm

    I thoroughly enjoy discussion like this. It is in my belief that physical phenomena are objective, but that the value that people derive from them is inherently subjective when applied to a good/bad spectrum. I don’t think that it is possible to fully separate one’s person from a critical evaluation, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be attempted, as some can be more influenced by their person than others. I also don’t see bias as a bad thing, it’s inevitable and comes with having a preference, but it obviously shouldn’t be the primary dictatorial factor in a critical evaluation. The irremovable subjectivity, in my opinion, especially with something with as many variables as games, lies in to what extent flaws and successes effect the individual viewer. For instance, I stand by that I consider gameplay the most important part of a game, yet my standards for good gameplay are fundamentally different from yours. We want different things out of our play. Therefore, I seem far more likely to enjoy a mechanically simple (simple as in difficulty, not in lack of complexity, though I believe that difficulty is subjective as well) game than you are. Therefore, a game being relatively simple to grasp and fully master doesn’t bother me at all. I have no idea how modern day journalists are evaluating games as I only watch or read specific reviewers.

    “I recognize that human nature varies a bit on an individual level, but I think we’re similar enough as a group to attempt to make general value evaluations.”

    I’ve seen this in several of your articles. While we can arrive at commonalities, these are the same commonalities that determined that the 3D Zelda games and Batman: Arkham Asylum are good games (a camp I’m part of, don’t judge me). Don’t subscribe to ad populum, I’d say, and don’t assume that other people aren’t fundamentally different from you. I’m not saying you’re wrong in that regard, but you’re only one person and have, as far as I know, only been one person. General value evaluations are not something we should or shouldn’t subscribe to. They aren’t a factor in individual evaluation. They represent only business success. Just my two cents.

    This was an excellent article, by the way. Kudos.


    • Chris Wagar December 28, 2016 / 8:19 am

      “3D Zelda games and Batman: Arkham Asylum are good games (a camp I’m part of, don’t judge me)”

      Judged. (nah, jk)

      I’m just using ad populum here to say that people can perceive the world similarly. People obviously have different tastes, but I think they’re related to similar underlying factors. You can make a game that a ton of people like, or you can make a game that is extremely likeable, or both maybe. I think that there are commonalities in what produce enjoyment, but I think most people don’t pursue necessarily the greatest possible enjoyment, due to other interfering factors. I tend to focus more on intensity of enjoyment over necessarily marketability and popularity, though I go into those a bit too because I want to figure out everything. I think that I am pointing out things that are on a base level highly enjoyable to people in general, but which most people won’t give a chance or invest into because there are factors that they object to, or they simply are not aware they have the choice.

      I think there are aspects of psychology and the human character in general that we can use to assign good/bad, and I think that these underlying factors don’t always align with what’s popular because there’s more than just enjoyment that influences the sale of a game. See McDonalds versus more healthy food.


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